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20.03.2019

Interview with award-winning Montenegrin reporter Jovo Martinovic

by Jane Whyatt

Journalist Jovo Martinović has won the prestigious Press Freedom Prize from Reporters Without Borders in Austria. He gives an interview to the ECPMF as his country, Montenegro, backslides on the rule of law and he faces an 18-month sentence on charges linked to his investigative reporting.

Interview with award-winning Montenegrin journalist Jovo Martinovic receives the Award from Rubina Möhring. Photo: Reporter ohne Grenzen Austria

ECPMF: You've been convicted and sentenced. [We released a statement back then.] What happens next?

My appeal will follow after we receive the verdict with written explanations and that could take some time. It’s been two weeks already. So I am working but being cautious. Like many other journalists, I am under surveillance.

When you were in jail, how were you treated?

The staff there already knew me. I had interviewed the warden and filmed there twice. They were kind, nice. They said I had been set up. They kept me in a nice room with a library and TV.

How can you explain why the court did not accept that you were working with the drugs gang as an undercover reporter?

They are all political appointees in this current batch of judges. I could see from the beginning that they would reject all my evidence. This court is like in the days before the fall of the Iron Curtain and does not respect laws or the constitution. They refused to release the files (to my defence lawyer) for almost a year until they got the joint letter that the Committee to Protect Journalists, Human Rights Watch and Reporters Sans Frontieres wrote to the court. Then they released them the next day.

Serbia and Montenegro backsliding on rule of law

Serbian journalists under pressure as protests swell

 

Read here about the media freedom situation in these two Western Balkan countries that are candidates for EU accession.

In Montenegro we’ve seen attacks on journalists that seem to go unpunished – the car bomb targeting Sead Sadicovic, the shooting of Olivera Lakić. What’s the atmosphere like for independent journalists?

 We’ve seen two journalists beaten up with metal rods, Olivera Lakić was shot in the leg – that was just a warning. We were aware that there was an attack in the making. They were delighted with what happened in Malta and Slovakia, thinking, "if those guys who are already in the EU can get away with it, so can we…"

Montenegro has applied for EU accession. What do you think the EU’s response should be to your case and these other violations of press freedom?

They should demand that the governments obey their laws and constitutions. They should demand accountability. The Balkans want the EU to turn a blind eye and if they don’t, they will turn to the Turks, Chinese or Russians. Turkey is already Montenegro's main strategic partner.

What does this award mean to you?

It means the world to me, knowing there are people who won’t just bow their heads and ignore what’s going on in a wretched little country in the Balkans. The ECPMF and all the media freedom organisations came up with some really sharp statements after my verdict. It really means a lot.


The European Centre for Press and Media Freedom supported Jovo Martinović with a grant of 1,000 euros from its Legal Assistance Fund.